Your neutral is not our neutral

Archival Decolonist [-o-]

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.” – Desmond Tutu

My blog post about the myth of neutrality in libraries, archives and museums. This post is from a First Nationsperspective

I had a discussion with someone once about if memory institutions, like museums, libraries and archives, should modify past classification and description of First Nations material that use antiquated and potentially offensive terminology, they said we could not because that would be whitewashing history and we need to remain objective and just present the facts. While part of me partially agrees, my retort was memory institutions have predominantly presented a colonial history as fact and have excluded the voices of marginalised people and by…

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February 23, 2018 at 7:10 pm Leave a comment

Taking Back Our Museums: #MuseumsAreNotNeutral Continues

img_20171108_210536_1581637098134.jpgThe Good News:
Thanks to hundreds of supporters we raised  $5669.79 for the Southern Poverty Law Center!

Today Mike Murawski and I relaunched our #MuseumsAreNotNeutral campaign to keep the dialogue going as we challenge the myth of museum neutrality. Letting everyone know that museums are shaped by and participate in sociopolitical arenas is the first of many steps to making our museums equity-centered institutions.

Now we are offering a few more colors and the proceeds will support Unidos Por Puerto Rico, United for Puerto Rico, an initiative providing assistance to those in Puerto Rico affected by the passage of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
If you can, please purchase a shirt and share your pics with our hashtag #MuseumsAreNotNeutral. 

Related posts:

Changing the Things I Cannot Accept: Museums Are Not Neutral, by La Tanya S. Autry, Artstuffmatters blog, October 15, 2017

Museums Are Not Neutral: Wear It Across Your Heart, by La Tanya S. Autry Artstuffmatters blog,  August 31, 2017

“Museums Are Not Neutral” by Mike Murawski, Art Museum Teaching blog, August 31, 2017

“The Idea of Museum Neutrality: Where Did It Come From,” by Gretchen Jennings, Museum Commons blog, June 26, 2017

What is Curatorial Activism,” by Maura Reilly, Art News, 11/7/2017


November 9, 2017 at 3:36 am Leave a comment

Changing the Things I Cannot Accept: Museums Are Not Neutral

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” – Angela Davis


Over the past 10 years I’ve worked in various positions at different art museums. For years, often I’ve been not only the only African-American person, but the only person of color, at institutional meetings. Yes, I meant that – years. Many times when I proposed programming centered on issues of racial inequality, white co-workers told me that the museum had to maintain a neutral stance or that my ideas sounded “political.” So they pushed aside my proposals. Each time I encountered that attitude, it was an attack on my body, my presence, my mind.

I have always known that museums are not neutral. They have never have been neutral. I would hope that our colleagues know that museums originate from colonialist endeavors. They are about power. As I have shared on social media networks, if anyone comes as me with that neutrality mess, I will take them down. I have had it with that narrow-minded perspective that ignores history and enables museums to operate as racist, sexist, and classist spaces.

A couple of months ago Mike Murawski and I started discussing this neutrality defense on Twitter. At some point he tweeted “museums are not neutral.” I answered, “that should be on t-shirt.” Not long after that exchange Mike wrote me and said let’s do just that. I’m so glad he did. Along with the hundreds of people who have supported our project, we’ve sparked critical discussion with our colleagues in museums, academic institutions, and broader publics. Also, we have raised over $5,000 for the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that has lead social justice initiatives for decades.

I’m proud to do this work with all of you who center justice.

[A few days ago, thanks to my friend Mike Murawski, I shared a version of this statement with colleagues attending the Museums as a Site of Social Action, #MassActionMIA, gathering in Minneapolis.]

If you would like to join us in making a statement against the myth of museum neutrality, please consider purchasing one of our Museums Are Not Neutral t-shirts. Proceeds support the Southern Poverty Law Center. 





October 15, 2017 at 4:54 pm 10 comments

Museums Are Not Neutral: Wear It Across Your Heart 

My friend Mike Murawski, Director of Education & Public Programs at the Portland Art Museum, and I have launched our “Museums Are Not Neutral” initiative. We would love to see more of our institutions engaging their communities in a deeper manner about social and political issues. Some museum professionals claim that museums must be neutral spaces. We oppose that attitude and decided to put our position on a t-shirt – Museums Are Not Neutral.

I hope you agree that museums should be active forces for social justice. Please consider purchasing one of the shirts before the campaign ends on September 20, 2017. The shirts, which are available in two colors and a range of sizes, sell for $19.99. Proceeds will go to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

August 31, 2017 at 11:19 pm 3 comments

Reflecting on My Time at Yale: The “Museums and Social Justice Reading Group”


from the series The Gates of Yale, 2014, La Tanya S. Autry

Last summer I co-founded the Museums and Social Justice Reading Group with two colleagues from Yale University Art Gallery.  We held a few gatherings off-site at local eateries and grappled with some difficult topics such as concepts of empathy, the possible roles of empathy in art museums, and how social justice might apply to art museum spaces.
While I had started my Social Justice & Museums Guide, open listing of resources, months before our group formed, I realized that it could serve as our un-official syllabus. (Museum professionals from areas across the U.S. have contributed suggestions to the list.) When I mentioned the reading group on Twitter, several colleagues expressed interest in joining via a digital platform. I liked the idea; but I decided to hold off on extending our project because we were in the initial stages.
Unfortunately, we didn’t have many gatherings because life happened. Our busy schedules dampened our energies. Even so I continue to mull over several of the discussion points we engaged. Down the road I plan to return to this initiative.

Recently I did send one last note to my fellow Museums and Social Justice Group members to serve as a farewell to that iteration of our endeavor and an invitation to continue what we started in other ways.
Below I’ve shared an adapted excerpt of that message as it spotlights significant calls for authentic commitments to critical reflection and social justice in our museums. These efforts deserve serious attention from curators, artists, educators, and others who care about the arts and humanities.
This letter also highlights the next steps of my career journey.


While I have enjoyed curating my recent exhibition Let Us March On: Lee Friedlander and the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, it has meant that my schedule has been jammed pack. Regretfully that stymied my ability to continue co-organizing our Museums and Social Justice Reading Group.
Now I’m just about to complete my fellowship at Yale- Friday, July 14th is my last day. I’ve learned a great deal during my time at here and will miss many people. As a parting gift, I would like to share a few more articles with you.

In February, the Davis Museum’s decided to remove art made by immigrants as response to Trump’s Muslim ban.
Later in May, in concert with NEMA, Margaret Middleton, a museum professional based in Providence, RI, organized a panel to discuss the museum’s project. Pampi, one of the co-panelists, wrote a rich reflection about the gathering.

Below please find links to essays by Pampi and Annie Wang, a Wellesley alum who critiqued the museum’s gesture much earlier. I feel that both authors did a good job at highlighting the Davis Museum’s lack of self-criticality.

Back in February, many art publications mentioned the museum’s decision. But I didn’t see any articles that put the lens on the inherent problems that many art museums would engage by pointing the finger at others about exclusionary practices. Moreover, most art writers failed to discuss how a ban against a particular ethnic group is different than one against all immigrants.

Pampi and Wang challenge all who both care about museums and support social justice to think deeply about how we can institute self-reflection and self-critique in our museums while negotiating the slippery terrain endemic to the colonialist origins of museums, trendiness of institutional inclusion rhetoric despite prevalent current practices and longstanding histories of exclusion in our museums, and the stated desire to be relevant in contemporary society. Tall order!

Critique of Davis Museum’s decision to remove art by immigrants

Mainstream press about Davis Museum’s decision to remove art by immigrants

More reading
The table of contents of the current issue of The Journal of Museum Education, Volume 42, No. 2, Summer 2017, “Identifying and Transforming Racism in Museum Education” looks fantastic. I haven’t gotten my hands on the journal yet. But I am eager to read the articles. 

Next month I will begin my new joint position as Curator of Art and Civil Rights at Mississippi Museum of Art and Tougaloo College. I plan to infuse my curatorial and teaching work with studies of the relationship of social justice to museums.  While I question the possibilities of change within existing frameworks at most art museums in the U.S., I continue to envision a future where more of our art centers are grounded in anti-racist and equitable labor practices. It’s going to require much more critical praxis to make enduring intersectional, structural changes.

Thank you for taking part in my initial efforts in this area during my time at Yale. I look forward to more conversations. If you are also committed to this work, please do keep in touch. You can also find me on several social media platforms under the digital handle Artstuffmatters.



July 14, 2017 at 7:43 pm Leave a comment

I got to get in on the #wheatpasteart 

@tlynnfaz art is powerful. 

Touched on her recent #stoptellingwomentosmile campaign in our #artofblackdissent session last night @theinstitutelibrary. #publicart #streetart #intersectionality #intersectionalfeminism

July 14, 2017 at 7:39 pm Leave a comment

I’m Losing Tons of Friends Fighting Racism. And I’m Totally OK with that.


Dual-Identity, Double Conscience

As an Afro-American man in this nation called the United States, it is a known fact that at the professional level one must possess a dual-identity.  I don’t know too much about everyone else, but for me in these trying times maintaining such a thing is driving me to the brink of insanity.  Professional black man by day, abolitionist writer/speaker by night, there is a severe conflict within myself.  All of the micro-aggressions suffered at work.  All of the near-blatant racist ideas uttered by my colleagues.  How am I supposed to soak up, the notion for example, that a guy that I had Christmas dinner with would plow through a set of protesters with his 2010 Mustang?

riley-eyeThis is how racism works: you can have friends, people who hold you dear even, have outright racist ideologies towards your skin tone.  You can have girlfriends, boyfriends and…

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November 6, 2016 at 1:12 pm Leave a comment

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